Marcus Semien

A's second baseman Jurickson Profar battling nasty case of the yips

A's second baseman Jurickson Profar battling nasty case of the yips

Yogi Berra once famously said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

His numbers might have been a little off, but the sentiment is spot on. Jurickson Profar certainly can attest to that.

The A's second baseman committed his seventh error of the season Monday night, leading to six unearned Red Sox runs, sending the A's to their fourth straight loss, 9-4.

Profar's seven errors are three more than any other second baseman in Major League Baseball this season. Even more troubling, six of the seven have been throwing errors and they haven't even been close.

That was the case on Monday when Profar fielded a routine double-play ball in the third inning and spiked it into the dirt, about 10 feet shy of second base. A few plays later on another routine ground ball, he carefully lobbed the ball to first base, seemingly afraid to throw.

It appears Profar has come down with a nasty case of the yips. There have been several instances of the yips wreaking havoc in baseball over the years. Former Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax is probably the most famous case.

In 1983, Sax suddenly became unable to make routine throws to first base, committing a career-high 30 errors that season. Former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch developed a similar problem in 1999, finishing with 26 errors, most of them wildly inaccurate throws.

Current Cubs pitcher Jon Lester has battled his own case of the yips where he can't throw the ball to first base. Fortunately for him, it hasn't affected his pitching ability.

Profar hasn't played a ton of second base in his career and is still learning the position. Last season with the Rangers, he spent most of his time at third base and shortstop, playing just 10 games at second.

"Different position, different angles," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters Monday. "We're working. At some point, he'll get comfortable there."

Profar has already sought advice from Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien, who dealt with his own defensive struggles early in his career.

[RELATED: A's place Mark Canha on 10-day IL]

"I'm ready to keep working," Profar told reporters. "I talked to Marcus a little bit and he talked to me about it and what he did. I'm going to follow his steps and try to get better to help my team win."  

At the moment, Profar seems to be overthinking every play at second base, a primary symptom of the yips. Whether he can overcome them remains to be seen. But right now, his errors are costing Oakland games.

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.

As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.

A’s manager Bob Melvin admits it’s probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.

“It’s just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more,” Melvin said. “The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up.”

As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team’s improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.

Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.

Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.

Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.

And then there’s Chapman. The A’s third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.

[RELATED: Chad Pinder making strong case to be in A's everyday lineup]

To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A’s improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.

'Nobody works harder': Marcus Semien off to hot start this season

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USATSI

'Nobody works harder': Marcus Semien off to hot start this season

OAKLAND – Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, and Ramón Laureano have dominated the headlines early this season, and rightfully so, but you could make a strong argument that Marcus Semien has been Oakland's best player through 10 games.

The A's shortstop leads the team in batting average (.333), on-base percentage (.429), hits (12), and runs (7). He's also tied for the lead with two doubles and six walks.

"I'm just trying to hit the ball hard," Semien told NBC Sports California. "Very simple. I'm prepared. Do your homework and just know who you're facing. There are a lot of new guys in the league now so you want to do your homework. You don't want to go up there empty-handed. You want to have all the info you can get and put together an approach that works for you."

Added manager Bob Melvin: "He becomes a better hitter every year. Nobody works harder than Marcus Semien. He knows what he needs to work on. He takes coaching very well. Whether it's where he's come from with the defense to him as a hitter – at one point in time he was just a power hitter – now he's just a better hitter. He continues to get better because, one, he's confident and, two, nobody's going to outwork him."

Three years ago, Semien belted a career-high 27 home runs but hit just .238. Now in his seventh major league season, the 28-year-old has worked hard to improve as an all-around player.

"There's a lot to that," Semien said. "You work hard so you can win ballgames. You work hard to provide for your family. This game gives you a lot of opportunities. You want to take every single opportunity you can to get the most out of it. You don't want to leave anything behind or have any regrets."

Semien's versatility in the lineup has already proven extremely valuable to Oakland. He has started games in four different spots in the order this season: first, second, seventh, and eighth. But his approach at the plate doesn't change.

[RELATED: A's have impressive Opening Day in Triple-A]

"You just want to do what you can to hit the ball hard," Semien said. "No matter where I am in the lineup, I want to hit strikes. It doesn't matter what the count is if you get a hit. If they're not throwing you strikes, you want to take them and get walks – whatever you can do to get on base, no matter where you are in the lineup."

Through 10 games, Semien has done that better than anyone on the A's.